Who Will Survey Tomorrow?
April 1, 2006
Dan Collins has had a hard time finding good help. The project manager at Jordan, Jones & Goulding, a firm that operates in the south-eastern United States, maintains a staff of more than 500 employees with 30 in the survey department. But he is regularly challenged in filling positions for project surveyors and instrument operators. He says the company offers impressive benefits packages for both positions, yet Collins doesn't receive much response to the openings. "A candidate with 10 years' experience looks promising until you realize [he has] one year [of] experience, ten times," Collins says.
He says he isn't asking for much, simply dependable, hard-working and honest people with a basic knowledge of the profession. "Project surveyors should be able to take any type of survey-related job from the schedule/ scope/budget/proposal phase to completion, be willing and able to mentor/teach the field crews and survey technicians, and be willing to field check all the work for which they are responsible," Collins says.
Especially for the project surveyors, Collins says the company "will provide training as necessary to familiarize someone with our equipment and methods. They need to have good working knowledge of proper surveying techniques and procedures and not be averse to putting in the time necessary to get the job done."
So where are the good, qualified candidates? Why is the issue of obtaining and retaining such a problem in the surveying profession? And what are the solutions to improving the fate of surveyors?
An Aid to the ProfessionAccording to Collins, education is the key for the evolution dilemma. "I feel that not many outside of the surveying world really understand all the different elements that are involved with land surveying. From high school counselors to the general public, we need to somehow change the public perception of surveying from a "trade' to a "profession.'"
The Florida Surveying and Mapping Society has taken on this challenge. In May 2004, the organization created the position of recruitment coordinator, the first of its kind for any state surveying society. After setting goals for this position, Michelle Chapman took the reigns to overcome the "major shortage in this graying profession" and its minimal recruitment efforts. By coordinating presentations at high schools and colleges, and working with the state's chapter members in additional promotional efforts, Chapman is proud to say that the state's only four-year program for geomatics at the University of Florida has increased enrollment from two students to 12 in just one year.
Chapman says she's set out to educate the instructors and the students on the prospects of surveying. "Most didn't even know what the degree was before. [People think] surveying is a misconception. People see technicians on the side of the road and think that they can't be very educated. Teachers don't really know that you can have a prestigious education [and] be a surveyor," Chapman says. She adds, echoing Collins: "It really comes down to education. The average high school [student] can only name about 20 professions."
Chapman notes some of the aspects of surveying her audiences have been attracted to: "The use of cutting-edge technology and the career path excites them. They like the thought of working outdoors, applying their math skills, and hands-down, the money." For those not interested in the longer road to professionalism, the FSMS is attempting to initiate surveyor technician programs in Florida. "There is just as much need for technicians," Chapman says. "Not everyone is cut out for college." FSMS is currently seeking instructors and equipment for these programs. "We would like each area to have [a program]-at least in the Panhandle, Jacksonville, Orlando, the west coast and South Florida."
Aside from formal programs, Chapman encourages individual surveyors to amp up their promotional efforts. "Take a few moments to volunteer at a local school. You may change the way a child sees the world," Chapman says. "It doesn't take that much time. Sometimes just 30 minutes. We can benefit from any kind of positive PR [public relations]. Or sign up to give a presentation at a career fair. Speak to students and teach them something they've never heard before and guide them to a career they didn't know about."
Exposing the ProfessionWhile Florida and a few other states are ramping up their promotional efforts, marketing in general has not been a strong suit of the surveyor and the concern for recruitment into the industry has grown. But every day is another opportunity. Those happily involved in the profession continually tout its benefits to fellow surveyors; newcomers often profess a sort of "puppy love" for their new jobs and careers, and bring a new energy to promote their work and profession. Great examples of surveyors who promote the profession exist across the country.
David L. Holland, land surveyor for the county of Henrico in Virginia and president of the Virginia Association of Surveyors, headed an energetic and ambitious recruitment program last year with a flair for historical retracement. Holland is a passionate surveyor-the type of guy who includes the latitude and longitude of his address in his correspondence. Holland's enthusiasm led him to expand an effort of the VAS Roanoke Chapter to hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail to raise funds for future surveyors. Holland extended the challenge to all VAS chapters to hike the entire 550-mile Virginia segment of the trail as a statewide promotional program. Holland spearheaded a fundraiser in which participants of the 11 state chapters of the association hiked the trail in 10- to 15-mile segments. The group sought monetary donations for the hike in sponsorship that supplemented the VAS Education Supplement Fund, a fund for future land surveyors. The majority of the funds raised have been donated to the surveying programs at Old Dominion University and East Tennessee State University, the two programs VAS extends most of its support to. What's more, the event served as a public relations program.
"This fundraising project proved to be enormously successful considering the complexity and logistics of the program," Holland says. "Not only did we end up making a whole lot of money [$20,000] for our educational supplement fund, but the positive publicity and public relations generated throughout the Commonwealth for VAS and the land surveying profession was worth its weight in gold."
Holland and his hiking participants-83 in all (plus two dogs)-promoted the trail trek to local newspapers for increased exposure of the surveying profession. A few articles were published about the effort.
Holland reports that more than 300 miles-about 60 percent-of the Virginia Appalachian Trail were covered. But he hopes the effort doesn't stop there. He's traveling abroad to encourage the state surveying societies of the other 13 states the trail runs through to hike their portion of the trail to enhance surveying's future. "This project required considerable time, effort, motivation and money to culminate into a successful venture," Holland says. "It was an extremely aggressive project requiring a whole lot of people to step up to the plate." So far, a few states are on board with the idea-along with some states outside of the Appalachian Trail boundaries. "This has turned out to be a statewide project for everyone to be a part of. I'm really happy with the turnout," Holland says with pride.
Last November Dan Eggan, a high school biology teacher at Ridgewood High School in the Village of West Lafayette, Coshocton County, Ohio, contacted Scott Johnson, a friend, registered professional surveyor and owner of American Precision Surveying, Coshocton, to survey two tracts of land that adjoined the school property. Eggan hoped to purchase the land for wetland remediation. In addition to being poorly drained and a concern for neighboring landowners, the area is home to an Ohio endangered species, the Eastern Spadefoot Toad (Scaphiopus holbrooki).
Eggan offered to help Johnson with the field work to keep costs down for the survey. He was also interested in learning a little about surveying. Johnson thought this was a great opportunity to promote the profession of surveying to both Eggan and his students. Eggan thought that a math class might be better to teach about surveying than his biology class and made arrangements with geometry teacher Jane Buehler (whose father was a surveyor) and advanced math teacher Diane Cochran to make presentations to three classes.
Buehler told Johnson that her students questioned when and where they would ever need geometry in their futures and why they needed to know about degrees, minutes and seconds. So Johnson's presentation began with the history of surveying, meandering into different types of surveying and education needed to become a surveyor. He also discussed equipment both old and new, and ended the presentation by discussing the math used in surveying along with some practical examples of trigonometry and geometry. He then took the students into the field.
Johnson wanted to give the students the "full surveying experience," so he performed the survey the old school way by taking written notes. He gave a reflector rod to groups of three-one with a radio, one with the rod and one for "moral support," he says, and had them trade duties at each corner. The remaining students stayed with Johnson at the total station with one young lady taking notes. "I explained what functions the instrument was performing and a basic, and as non-technical as I could give, explanation of the EDM," he says. "I let anyone who wanted a chance to be a rod person [take a turn] and let anyone who wished to look through the instrument telescope do so." They later reduced the field notes and entered the information into a laptop. Then the real math lessons came. Johnson showed the students how to average the angles and distances in the field notes with an old but functional HP41c. He then entered the data into his laptop that runs PC Survey software (Soft-Art, Gallatin, Tenn.). "The students enjoyed watching the survey come to life on the computer screen as I entered the data and never failed to point out any obvious mistakes I made (which fortunately were few)."
After his last presentation with the students, Johnson put the finishing touches on the computations needed to stake out the four new corners. Eggan joined him in finding buried pins with a Schonstedt (Kearneysville, W.V.) magnetic locator and in setting the new corner pins. "Reflecting back on that day," Johnson says, "I find that I have learned as much as the students. They now know a little about surveying and I know a little about teaching. I can only hope that I planted that little seed of interest that may grow into a decision to become a surveyor in the future."
In Colorado, the Professional Land Surveyors association (PLSC) launched a surveying mentoring program last March in honor and memory of legendary Colorado surveyor Bill McComber, PLS. The program's mission is "to share fundamental surveying knowledge with survey technicians" and "strictly as an informal question and answer "teaching' program to mentor young, non-licensed surveyors," say Gene Kooper and Tom Adams, administrators of the Colorado Springs and Denver programs, the first two of the program's current four offerings. Other programs include the Western Slope (Mesa, Montrose and Delta counties) and Loveland-Ft. Collins. Discussion continues about a fifth program in the Steamboat Springs area.
Colorado surveyor Gaby Neunzert pioneered the effort in getting the mentoring program underway. He organized materials for all of the programs, served as speaker for the majority of the Colorado Springs and Denver programs and has continued to support each program fully. The mentoring programs continue to thrive through united coordination, passion for the future of surveying, and integrity and honor for Bill McComber. The programs have succeeded through word of mouth, and announcements in local chapter newsletters and the Colorado state society journal, Side Shots.
Each of the McComber Mentoring Programs are loosely structured, welcoming both technicians and professional land surveyors alike, and are open to the public at large. Those interested in a program session topic may attend without formally enrolling. Experience levels range from the layperson in a parallel or peripheral career to the professional land surveyor to the seasoned county surveyor and the professional engineer. Between 10 and 20 students have attended any given class. The Western Slope program offers two semester hours of college credit through the drafting program's surveying fundamentals course.
"Surveying has historically been an apprenticed profession where young surveyors learned from a combination of experience, education and tutelage from one or more mentors," Kooper says. "The melding of the technical aspects of measurement with the legal aspects of land surveying is best accomplished under the guidance of a mentor. The McComber Mentoring Program is focused on building a conceptual framework of various technical and legal topics. Each session consists of a speaker discussing a topic with input and discussion from other experienced surveyors (mentors) in attendance."
Bill McComber, PLS, long-time supporter of the profession, walked his talk. "Bill had a long history of helping young surveyors in Colorado," Kooper says. "Many surveyors are indebted to Bill for helping them attain licensure. He administered and helped teach a refresher course for 16 years geared towards preparing young surveyors for the LSIT and PLS examinations (not to mention numerous presentations at conferences). Rarely did you see Bill at a surveying event without one or more people waiting to ask his advice about a surveying problem. [He] appreciated the value of an education, but more importantly, he understood the value of helping those behind him." This legacy is the reason for the mentoring program dedicated in McComber's name. "His willingness to share his knowledge and experience with others was the true inspiration for the mentoring programs in Colorado," Kooper says.
"Billy made a difference in our lives because he cared," says Diana Askew, PLS, a long-time friend. "We can all take something from that spirit of giving and continue in his footsteps-we can mentor, encourage, give of ourselves and love the profession of land surveying as he has taught us to."
National ProgressOn the national front, ACSM has made some notable progress with the National Middle School Association to develop lesson plans for math classes that contain surveying elements. The relationship has just begun, but thus far the association has shown interest in an abridged version of the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS) Speaker's Kit to be used in presentations to students. ACSM answered the request for a condensed kit containing the Flash movie and PowerPoint presentations from the kit to be placed on one small CD for teachers and guidance counselors to use. In addition, some ACSM members local to area middle schools have given presentations to classes on the profession of surveying. An attempt to include surveying problems in lesson booklets called Warm Ups used by middle school students is also being made. The problems stem from lesson plans the Museum of Surveying in Lansing has made for Michigan schools. These efforts will tap into the younger generation to open their eyes to the prospects of surveying careers.
The NSPS Trig-Star program, an annual high school mathematics competition, continues in its efforts with high school students interested in trigonometry and other math theories. According to John Chagnon, PE, LLS, committee chairman of the program, participation on the national level has been steadily increasing over the years. Figures from the 2003-2004 school year report participation from 323 high schools with 6,498 students and $48,130 in award prizes. Last year the program honored state winners from 33 states and two districts. The program relies greatly on volunteers; states that do not renew their licenses for the program deny participants of their state of the free entrance fee to the competition, which often decreases participation. Also, because the program relies on a shoestring budget, the NSPS Joint Government Affairs Committee has been working on obtaining government funding. Such challenges, while significant, have not stifled the progress of the program or its promotion of the surveying and mapping professions to high school students. "There are students who find out about surveying and mapping via Trig-Star," Chagnon says. "In fact, we have developed a "check box' system on the test cover sheet so students can indicate that they may have an interest in surveying and mapping careers. Students who check the box can be sent information on local or regional surveying programs. The Trig-Star program is meant to inform and stimulate, and is a tool in the recruitment process." From this, there are recruitment success stories for the profession, such as 1994 winner Erin Dunbar of Washington. Dunbar not only stayed with surveying as her career, but also coordinates the test in her state and commits additional time with students with Saturday field events.
It's Up to YouWhile attrition and low recruitment are growing concerns in the profession, there are solutions for improvement. Promotion, mentoring, apprenticeships and the funding of proactive programs toward this end will aid the profession, perhaps to the point where it is stable and prospering. The resources are available-it is what is done with them that will affect the fate of the profession. How will you assist your profession?
SIDEBAR: Promotional ResourcesThe NSPS has established two great resources for promotion of the profession. The NSPS Speaker's Kit, created with the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), puts numerous resources-including a speaker's guide, PowerPoint slides, career brochure and a narrated VHS video-in one place to assist with presentations on the
profession of surveying for any audience including middle school, high school and college students. To request an NSPS/NCEES Speaker's Kit, contact Curt Sumner, LS, executive director of ACSM and NSPS at 240/632-9716, ext. 106 or email@example.com.
Another new and useful promotional tool is the website www.SurveyingCareer.com. Visitors to this site will find highlights on the possible job options for surveyors,
education and licensure requirements, surveying programs at schools, links to related websites, and trivia about surveying
history and current technology. In today's world of computers, the site is a great tool for promotion and potential recruitment.